Werewolves of London
In which Alvin endures some hot and cold Scandinavian experiences, details some unpleasant episodes with Steve Roberts, hangs out with Hanoi Rocks, rents a new flat near to his favourite London hang-outs, sees the Subs jump ship from Gem to NEMS, records the Subs' masterpiece LP and courts a San Francisco model ....
Before I exhume the remaining happenings of personal and professional significance from the year 1981, I want to share with you the news that the Subs’ erstwhile manager of this period, Alastair Primrose, recently re-entered my life. Firstly he messaged me via Facebook to correct the spelling of his Christian name - do they really still use that term in Britain despite of our multi-cultural and essentially secular age? I hope not.
It seems I’d spelt it in past memoirs as ‘Alistair’ rather than the accurate version given, which, of course, I am happy to now employ whenever he features in future stories. He also informed me he would be attending our 100 Club show, this being the final gig of the 2015 five week long Subs UK Spring Tour. Sure enough, while I was sipping some wine in the 100 Club’s dressing room, the security sentinel, whose job it is to ensure that only band members and invited guests gain access to this fairly small and always inexplicably humid retreat, announced there was someone outside wanting to gain entry claiming to be my ex-manager.
“Sure” I said, “that would Alastair spelled with an “a” rather than an “i”, bring him on in”.
Obviously, a lot of years had passed since we last met but he was still - just about - physically recognisable. I shook his hand, offered him a beer and we got to chatting about former times.
Considering my less than flattering portrayal of Primrose and his Ramkup management associates in this and past instalments - and especially after you later read about the manifest fraud perpetrated by this man and his company which was shockingly revealed when we terminated our business relationship - you might think it somewhat perverse that I would want to socialise with him at all.
What I thought noteworthy about his original message though was he’d mentioned reading my memoirs with interest and then instead of complaining about the way I’d depicted him or trying to coerce me to enact some personal propaganda on his behalf, reminded me of other events that occurred during his management tenure that equally represented him in a negative and unflattering way but which he insisted ought to be utilised in future instalments.
Here, it seemed to me, was a man who’d accepted the missteps of his past and now wished to re-engage with certain people from those times having completed a process of reconsideration. One of the stark divisions between human beings is the chasm between those who are capable of constructive change and those who are incapable of altering either the trajectory of their lives or of challenging self-constructed personal mythology. Alastair, with an “a”, is seemingly one of those capable of such a transformation. For those who correspond to this category the absolution of former transgressions can be both a formidable method of revenge and a bridge to reconciliation.
On with the show…
The balance of our concise visit to Finland was a lot of fun. Venues were full, Finnish women proved more than just welcoming and Hanoi Rocks were excellent hedonistic company. Having reached a state of high camaraderie with the core quartet of McCoy, Mike Monroe, Sami Yaffa and Nasty Suicide (out of shyness, or perhaps reluctance, their drummer Gyp Casino proved harder to form a friendship with), I pledged I would chant their praises back in the UK and suggested I might even find them a British manager to work in tandem with their Finnish mentor, Seppo Vesterinen, as a means of broadening their recognition. Our flight back to London however, and an event subsequent to landing, will be instructive in broaching a particular problem within my own band that had been developing for a while.
Steve Roberts and I had become good friends. We’d joined the Subs at just about the same time, shared a love of Glam rock groups such as T. Rex and Slade, as well as liking many of the same bands in the extant Punk rock scene. There was a natural solidarity there as we were, after all, the rhythm section - the conjoined twins bestowing an unyielding sonic foundation for the music of the U.K. Subs. Plus, Steve and I liked to drink; and that’s what we did, at Helsinki airport prior to take off and during the entirety of the return flight to Heathrow being as we were conveniently awarded adjoined seats.
The steward seemed happy enough to keep supplying the beers and we were more than content to keep disposing of them. At first our conversation was light-hearted and entertaining. Steve, though not nearly as quick with the humorous asides and the satirical observations as Chutch, could also be very funny at times. The jokes came thick and fast and our laughter reverberated around the cabin much to the displeasure of some of the more sombre stuffed capons on board. But towards the latter part of the flight, after having consumed a fair amount of beer, Roberts’ former jocular mood started to alter.
When the steward, an agreeable man with a seriously camp manner, kindly returned yet again with the drinks trolley for us, Steve started muttering something about “poofs and faggots” then asked him, in an accusatory, unpleasant voice, if he was off to a gay club when we landed. I was as embarrassed as the steward, who hastily handed us two more beers and understandably avoided us for the remainder of the voyage.
“Why did you have to say that to him?” I asked Roberts.
“He’s a poofter”, was the reply.
“So what?” I protested, “since when has that been an issue with you?”
Steve then tried to make light of his discourtesy and sought to insinuate that I didn’t understand when he was joking or being serious. The thing is I did.
We had seen Steve exhibit this kind of behaviour from time-to-time before: an alteration from harmless exuberance to a much darker and unpleasant disposition as the alcohol took possession of him. And even his attempts at what he considered an amusing prank often backfired when under the influence. For instance: one of Roberts’ favourite larks, having ingested a bunch of drinks, was to take to his room upon arrival at our hotel, post gig, then shortly thereafter appear naked in the bar with a cigarette sticking out of his arse. He would go up to some horrified guest, swing his anus in their direction and drunkenly ask if they had a light for his fag.
Funny, right? Well, yes, on the first occasion this occurred it was tolerated, even collectively celebrated as a classic piece of rock ‘n’ roll mischief; but upon being ousted from yet another hotel at 1:00am in the morning after a fight had ensued with those who didn’t care to have a naked backside shoved in their face and the police having yet again being called in, this oft repeated joke rapidly soured.
Such unstable judgement again transpired after we landed back at Heathrow from the Finnish trip. As we waited for our luggage Roberts decided it would be hilarious to leap up onto the moving carrousel to wave his arms around and yell some obscenities while trying to keep his balance amongst the various pieces of baggage as the belt made its circuitous route. Within minutes airport staff had dragged him off it, after which a scuffle ensued and the constabulary arrived to arrest, handcuff and then incarcerate our inebriated drummer in a cell located within the airport complex. I tried to intercede on his behalf but was brusquely warned by one of the arresting constables that unless I moved on I would be cell-bound too.
There had been some other mortifying episodes featuring an intoxicated Roberts prior to his Heathrow arrest too, but at least at this stage of the game he was still managing to sustain his excellent drumming both in the studio and in front of an audience. Because of that singular fact, Charlie, Nicky and I overlooked Steve’s increasingly volatile behaviour and hoped that his need to act like a bargain basement Keith Moon wouldn’t eventually result in him becoming impossible to work with. As you will discover, this proved to be a forlorn piece of thinking.
I had been essentially a person of no fixed abode since moving out of the Sydenham Road house I shared with Karen. My things were stored at my parents’ place in Croydon where, on occasion, I would sleep, cadge the odd meal, do some laundry and have a shower; but principally I was living in hotels on the road, or, during band down-time, sleeping on various friends’ sofas in central London after attending gigs or when carousing with the Werewolves at favoured pubs and clubs.
Chutch and Steve Roberts and his wife Jude were living in independent flats contained within a large Georgian house at 106 Oakley Street adjacent the Kings Road in Chelsea. Chutch told me of a small flat that had just been vacated on its top floor and knowing I was spending so many of my days off revelling in and around Soho suggested I should go ahead and rent it, thus locating me just a short bus or tube ride from my favourite hedonistic playground.
At that time the Kings Road was also a prime hangout for Punk rockers. Shops such as Boy, Johnsons and the Westwood/McLaren World’s End store attracted a fair amount of our sort, some of whom also congregated on this street to socialise, drink and smoke, plus, as a means of raising some beer money, to cunningly charge tourists a fifty pence piece to have a photo taken with them to show the folks back home in Kansas, or wherever.
There were some good pubs to frequent too. The Water Rat, Chelsea Potter and the Trafalgar public houses drew a lot of drinkers who were musicians, artists, writers and actors, and at the Cadogan Arms on most days of the week you could encounter that tragic football genius, George Best, diligently working on further undermining his already overtasked liver. Also, it has to be stated that some really stylish women lived in those parts. Given such attractions it seemed churlish not to move in.
Around the time of my relocation to Chelsea we learned from our management people that Gem Records were now in bad financial shape and that the chance of them coming up with the required monetary advance for a necessary new album was deemed slim to none… and slim had just been seen leaving the building.
After an emergency meeting at Ramkup HQ to discuss the implications of Gem’s lack of liquidity, Mike Phillips revealed that NEMS Records had somehow learned of the situation and boldly approached Alastair Primrose with an offer for us to jump ship and make a record with them. They were proffering decent money for a fresh LP and seeing as Gem would be unable to fulfil their contractual obligation to fund a new album there were no legal impediments to making this switch. We unanimously agreed to go with the NEMS offer.
Having played a sold out show at the Marquee on August 1st, we attended a contract signing drinks party at NEMS’ offices sited at 32 Eccleston Street in SW London the following day, then focused on the serious business of writing and rehearsing new material for the forthcoming LP. We had pre-prepared demos of ‘Countdown’ and ‘Sensitive Boys’ ready for re-recording but by the time we were due to go into the residential studio that NEMS’ boss Patrick Meehan had suggested - Jacobs, located in Farnham, Surrey - only another four or five songs were in a tolerably fit state for transferring to tape. This meant writing and arranging material whilst in the studio. Not a perfect state of affairs but a way of working that we’ve become very adept at ever since.
If you were to ask Charlie Harper and Nicky Garratt to name their favourite U.K. Subs album they would both unequivocally answer ‘Endangered Species’. Alongside ‘Another Kind of Blues’ it is also my preferred LP from those early years, and my recollections of the making of this apparently widely esteemed piece of work are as follows:
We arrived at the studio to start the recording process on Monday the 25th of August, 1981.
The actual studio was part of a larger complex that included a sizeable house where various bedrooms, a dining room, a large lounge with a snooker table, and where all the other customary domestic facilities were located. Outside there was a swimming pool, a tennis court and extensive well-manicured grounds where you could work on achieving a tan sprawled out on the furnished sun loungers or take a walk to survey the surrounding countryside: Farnham was a rural South Eastern English town encircled by farms, fields and woodland. Jacobs was positioned in the midst of this pastoral setting, a fair distance from the town’s centre.
I guess Meehan thought that we would benefit from being in such a secluded spot, free from all the normal distractions a city based studio would invite; plus, having all our meals cooked and served to us each day by the resident chef and kitchen staff and being able to sleep over in the house each night meant we could fully dedicate ourselves to the task in hand.
NEMS let us know that they wanted to release a single as a taster for the impending album. Out of necessity of time the A and B sides needed to be the first order of recording business. We discussed which song from the seven available would be the most suitable. I was elated when the general consensus elected ‘Countdown’ - co-composed by Charlie and I - as the A-side.
In consideration of the B-side, which the record company did not want included on the LP, I submitted what I considered to be a kind of Dead Boys’ sounding swift piece of Punk rock I’d written that I played to Harper, Garratt and Roberts using Nicky’s guitar through a Marshal amp turned up to eleven.
There were nods of approval from my three co-band members and Charlie speedily and effortlessly wrote up some words for it. We recorded ‘Plan of Action’ in one take.
After mixing and dispatching both of these tracks to NEMS for manufacture, we worked on the remaining extant songs. Backing tracks for ‘Sensitive Boys’, ‘Fear of Girls’, ‘I Robot’ and Nicky’s superb ‘Ice Age’ were accomplished over the next couple of days in between generous time outs for swimming and vigorously contested football matches, meals, sleep and the drinking of brandy and cokes whilst decompressing of an evening whilst playing games of snooker.
When we came to record the instrumentation for ‘Lie Down and Die’ Garratt’s original concise ending struck us as anti-climactic, so we kept extending it, with Nicky throwing in an extra riff, then I, then Steve, then Nicky again, then I, while each of us laughed until our eyes watered at the sheer silliness of it all. After due consideration, we edited this original bonkers finale to the slightly more succinct one you can hear on the record.
Eventually we ran out of raw written material and despite the pleasant working conditions at Jacobs’ it has to be said that Charlie and I were starting to miss our normal routine of going out to catch live music at the Marquee and trawling around our favoured Soho bars and pubs with the Werewolf fraternity. Knowing this, Nicky suggested we have a couple of days off to return to city life while he took care of all the guitar overdubs and solos that needed accomplishing on the pre-recorded tracks.
Before leaving I taught Garratt and Roberts the music for a new song I’d recently composed. Nicky insisted we immediately record it, during which time I got the feeling that he wasn’t very keen on the repetitive nature of its principal riff. Charlie told me to write some lyrics for it while we were on our sabbatical.
When Chas and I returned to Farnham we found that Nicky had beautifully layered all the guitars and added some stunning solos to the tracks we’d laid down.
“Have you written those lyrics?” Charlie asked me.
“Yeah”, I replied.
“Right then, go out there (indicating the live room) and sing ’em” he instructed.
Recalling my disappointing lead vocal attempt on the demo of ‘I Don’t Want Your Love’ I initially refused. But Harper kept insisting and eventually, just to shut him up, I relented. The end result was ‘Living Dead’. After my session at the microphone I returned to the control room where the band and our studio engineers, Ken Thomas and Martin Haskell, were gratifyingly complimentary about my vocal performance. I could also tell that Nicky’s original scepticism about the worthiness of this song had dissipated now all its elements were conjoined and concluded. In fact, as is Garratt’s competitive way, he spent hours after we had ended recording for that day trying to best it with a similar song of his own, and succeeded.
The next day he presented us with the music for what would become the title track of the album - ‘Endangered Species’.
After Charlie had caught up with the lead vocals we were still all too aware that more tunes were necessary to bring the track total for the LP up to an acceptable number. Nicky and I spent a little time with our instruments in the live room working on a Psychedelic Furs sounding riff that he had instigated. Once Harper had injected his lyrical and vocal contributions we were able to add ‘Flesh Wound’ to the tally. We also re-recorded ‘I Don’t Want Your Love’ but with this time Charlie taking on the lead vocal. This revised version didn’t make it on to ‘Species’ but you can find it on the Street Link Records’ ‘Down on the Farm’ compilation CD, subtitled ‘a collection of the less obvious’.
Having now mentioned ‘Down on the Farm’ it makes sense to impart the circumstances of how this song attained its completion, which is as follows: during an extended lunch break towards the end of our stay at Jacobs I started playing around, unplugged, on my Gordon Smith six string electric guitar in the lounge area of the house. Then, without thinking, I began absently strumming out an intro riff I’d conceived for a piece of music written before I’d even joined the Subs. Charlie walked in at that moment, heard it, and inquired: “What’s that you’re playing?”
“Oh, nothing much” I answered, “just an intro to an old song of mine”.
“That’s good, play me the rest of it” he demanded.
He then dashed off to get pen and paper and exploited his frustration at being holed-up in a rural backwater to create the lyrical storyline for my music: “Blue skies and swimming pools have so much charm/But I’d rather be back in Soho than down on the farm”.
We took it to Nicky and Steve. Garratt decided to insert a middle-eight section and suggested the subsequent breakdown heard in the final arrangement. ‘Down on the Farm’ was thereafter recorded and included in the final track selection for the LP.
I thought of it as just a throwaway piece, something quickly glued together out of necessity. How was I to know that years later it would appear on an LP that would sell millions worldwide and provide me with the only platinum and gold record awards to adorn a wall of my memorabilia room here at my home in southern France? Other songs may be more popular but ‘Down on the Farm’ has reached a far wider audience and generated significantly more money for its composers than any other U.K. Subs track to date. And that’s a fact.
- Below: Guns N Roses perform 'Down on the Farm' at Farm Aid, 1990
When we came to review the various completed songs before mixing got underway it became apparent we had inadvertently recorded an album of contrasting atmospheres. There were the predominantly straight ahead rock orientated numbers like ‘Living Dead’, ‘Lie Down and Die’ and ‘Endangered Species’, while at the opposite region of the sonic spectrum the more ambient, considered and moody compositions like ‘÷8 x 5’, ‘Ice Age’ and ‘Flesh Wound’ offered an interesting juxtaposition with the heavy Punk and accelerated blues material deemed to be the Subs’ exclusive oeuvre.
But not everybody was enamoured with this divergence of sound. Steve Roberts wanted the Subs to be the Status Quo of Punk. He required us to be reassuringly predictable in our compositional output, unswerving and musically conservative. Steve even confided that he hated the more experimental songs and didn’t want to play “this fucking arty shit” as he designated it; but Charlie, Nicky and I loved the idea of an album of two distinct sides and to this end consciously separated out the material to achieve a thunderous, snarling A-side and a more serene, singular side B. Steve’s uncompromising stance only further undermined his already insecure position in the band.
As with ‘Diminished Responsibility’ Charlie’s accompanying words for the material on ‘Species’ are exceptionally good. On the lyric sheet for this album you’ll find wonderful observational prose: “She sits by window/I sit by the aisle/the hostess pours the drink/with a practised smile”. Steve’s drumming was even more expansive and technically impressive than he’d rendered for our prior LP, and Nicky’s guitar playing has a cunning duality to it that surpassed his sterling work on ‘Diminished’.
The songs are superior too; but where this album really outshines our previous long playing release is in the overall quality of sound. Garratt’s production is imposing. He achieves real substance for the harder-edged material while conferring an appropriately sympathetic ambience for the more abstract tracks. I think it is by far the best produced album of the U.K. Subs’ initial four, and, as you may have gathered, I’m very proud of it.
Karen and I finally broke up. We had hardly seen each other since she’d started her degree in Media Studies at Reading University and upon moving into the flat in Chelsea I ’phoned Karen and asked for her to come over there for a drink at her convenience. She arrived that weekend and in between sips of supportive vodka I carefully explained that I believed it was in both our interests to move on and find partners afresh: her life was inexorably shifting in a direction that was counter to mine and splitting up would be a beneficial move for the both of us. That was, roughly, the sum of what I told her. These were weasel words of course. What I really meant was that it was in ‘my’ interest to move on, but self-deception was still a relatively new acquaintance of mine back then.
“Have you seen the new girl in the ground floor flat yet?” Chutch enquired as we drank beer and fed the jukebox more coins in exchange for some favoured tunes at the Chelsea Potter on the Kings Road. He was referring to the young woman who had just taken up residence in the recently vacated street level apartment in the Oakley Street house.
“No” I answered, “what is she like?”
Chutch smiled, “I guarantee that you will like her”, he asserted.
He was right. I first encountered Mary Jordan as I was sorting through mail in the pitiful hope of finding a royalty cheque among the various envelopes that were stacked on a small table in the entrance hall of the house. She came in through the front door, completely ignored me and made straight for her flat. She was slim, dark haired, beautiful. I was unreservedly smitten and immediately started formulating a plan that would commend me to this attractive neighbour. But all strategies had to be put on hold as the Subs’ UK Autumn Tour of ’81 was about to commence and take precedent over my wretched romantic ambitions.
This excursion around the country was a chance to unveil material from the new album while simultaneously re-engaging ourselves with our dedicated home audience. I got to play the legendary Hammersmith Palais for my first and only time as part of this particular series of shows - sixteen in total. I recall Joe Strummer’s words to my favourite Clash song occupied my head as I looked out at the large, boisterous Palais crowd while waiting for our intro music (now changed from Gary Glitter’s ‘I’m the Leader of the Gang’ to classical composer Carl Orff’s verbose but effective ‘Carmina Burana’) to end before striding out to start our set.
After playing the UK our booking agency decided we ought to capitalise on our earlier brief but successful visit to Finland. This time though we would be widening the tour to include Denmark, Norway and Sweden. It was the 27th of November when we flew into Copenhagen for the first gig and band and crew did not to return to London until December 13th. This meant all seven British members of the Subs’ total touring party of eight would have to undergo travel during entrenched winter in countries where bitterly cold exterior temperatures were the norm throughout this season; and it quickly became apparent that Scandinavian and Finnish decreases in Celsius were far more extreme than any of us had experienced before.
Nicky had got himself a Russian Cossack style fur hat to help preserve some body heat and initially took a lot of ribbing from the rest of us for it. But after our bus broke down due to the petrol literally freezing in its tank (this being on an isolated stretch of road somewhere between the Finnish towns of Tarvasjoki and Juva surrounded by nothing except fields of deep, solidly-packed snow and wolf-inhabited forests) we all started to regret we’d not invested in similar warm headgear and cut out the jokes; especially when we were all obliged to stand clear of the vehicle out in the icy tundra-like conditions while our madcap Finnish driver worked on returning the fuel to its original liquid state by employing his Zippo cigarette lighter to heat up the tank. He thankfully succeeded without detonating the gasoline and we safely made it to the Kaarihalli Sports Hall in Eastern Finland on time to play our show.
Below: The stretch of isolated road we broke down on due to the petrol freezing,
Scandinavian-Finnish tour, '81 - click to enlarge
Above: Trying to keep warm while waiting for a train at Copenhagen Station, Denmark, Scandinavia-Finland tour, 1981 - click to enlarge
Despite these devilishly cold temperatures the Scandinavian/Finland tour of late ’81 was an enjoyable and eventful Nordic frolic. According to my diary entries all the shows we played went really well and I got to meet up and go bar hopping with my Hanoi Rocks friends in Helsinki, plus, had some nice liaisons with indigenous women; although I have to report that my attempts at spending the night with a certain blonde, blue-eyed goddess in Gothenburg, Sweden, were maliciously sabotaged.
I’d met her after our show there and she benevolently suggested we go to a bar where the beer was only five times more expensive than you would expect to pay back in England. We enjoyed each other’s company and she was happy to accompany me back to the hotel, which, unfortunately, turned out to be one of those weird, faintly unwelcoming sorts of family-run hostelries that we were very occasionally obliged to stay at when touring back then. The middle-aged night manager sat behind the reception desk gave us a disproving look, then, gesturing towards my companion, asked me in good English: “Where are you going with her?”
“To my room” I told him.
“No, this is a family hotel, we do not let guests stay overnight with members of the opposite sex unless they’re married. Are you married?”
I knew, that he knew, we were not husband and wife, so I tried another angle.
“Look, it’s a room with two double beds, and we’ve paid for the occupancy of two people. We are two people, right, so what’s the problem?”
This was all true. I was supposed to have shared with Chutch, but after he’d seen the way things were developing between the goddess and I back at the bar he very generously offered to let me use it exclusively and instead shared with crew members Baz Ward and Silly Side Phil, being as they had a large triple room with a spare bed up for grabs. This, unsurprisingly, didn’t wash with the sexfinder general. He simply reiterated his earlier statement about marrieds only and even when my new female friend produced her identity card and showed him she was over the age of twenty-one he continued to be unyielding in his stance.
I then deployed one last desperate roll of the dice… well, you know, intimacy with a beautiful Swedish woman was at stake here!
“OK, there’s a mini bar in the room,” I reasoned, “Can she at least come up for a drink and to chat for say an hour, after which time she’ll leave?”
He wasn’t happy with that option either but after contorting his face into a semi-frown and neurotically shuffling some desk papers around for a few seconds he ultimately agreed to my terms, but warned: “One hour only!”
We got to my room, drank vodka from the fridge bar, talked, kissed and embraced while assuming the desk Nazi had only been difficult as a formality of his job and was now back in the reception office wearing nothing but a gimp mask and leather jock strap fully preoccupied in scourging himself furiously with a horse whip to expunge his many sinful thoughts. On the basis of this hypothesis we took a shower together and then got into bed to consummate our mutual attraction.
No sooner had the fun begun when the door to my room burst open and the sinister night manager, brandishing his master key like a weapon in one hand while aiming a crooked finger of his other paw in our direction, yelled something at us in Swedish. He was immediately joined by a brace of policeman, one of whom was ominously clutching a pair of handcuffs.
“It’s alright officer” I told this particular cop, “I don’t need them, I’ve brought my own.”
My companion was the only other person in the room to appreciate my attempt at levity and our shared laughter only served to enrage the Nordic Norman Bates further. He went into full psychotic overdrive, screaming, according to my bed mate who was translating for me, stuff about whores and immoral foreign philanderers and other absurdities in the vernacular. I eventually managed to negotiate a truce, which included the withdrawal of the uninvited guests so my naked companion could get her garments back on, after which she was escorted from the premises by the twin guardians of Swedish law. I was allowed to remain, but, as you might imagine, was very, very pissed off about the whole episode.
I think what disappointed me the most about that regrettable incident - apart from the fact we were simply consenting adults looking to have relations in a room that was always intended for two people anyway - was that I considered Sweden to be a world leader in sexual leniency and openness.
Hell, I remember a couple of friends and I use to sporadically skip school to go see the skin flicks that would play at the Croydon Odeon cinema on Tuesday afternoons after we’d convinced the ticket seller we all conformed to the mandatory eighteen years of age necessary for entry. Nearly all of the pornographic films aired there were made in Sweden, and certainly the best ones emanated from that nation.
Actually, it turned out I had just been unlucky. We had been booked into a place run by a judgemental religious nut-job as there was a business convention in Gothenburg and none of the hotels normally used to house rock bands were available. So, having now experienced the real Sweden, I can concur with that connoisseur of carnal fun, Iggy Pop, when in the track ‘Five Foot One’ he sings: “I wish life could be Swedish magazines”.
Any thoughts I might have accommodated that the Gothenburg occurrence heralded the start of a trend of amorous misfortune was quickly dispersed upon my return to London. The day after I got back to my Chelsea flat I ran into Steve Roberts in the entrance hall chatting to the alluring new tenant situated on the ground floor. Seizing my chance I introduced myself as Steve’s fellow band member and offered to make tea for them both back in my apartment two floors above.
Roberts finished his beverage and left to go about his day leaving Mary Jordan and I to continue chatting in my diminutive kitchen area. I discovered she was from the USA (San Francisco, to be precise) and had come to London to model. She had already secured a few assignments but also worked part time as a waitress at a restaurant situated in Covent Garden that had become a voguish hangout for the acting and showbiz crowd, Joe Allen’s.
I told her about the Werewolves and some of the places we liked to frequent, and figuring there was something in the old proverb ‘faint heart never won fair lady’, audaciously asked if she would like to go to the Embassy Club in Old Bond Street the following evening. She said “Sure, that would be nice”. In point of fact she thought I meant with a group of friends; but I wasn’t going to let this opportunity for a personal charm offensive go to waste and subsequently Mary discovered me waiting for her in my coolest duds outside the club, alone.
It was a most excellent date. So-much-so, that we remained together as partners and lovers for the next fifteen years.
The U.K. Subs fittingly said farewell to 1981 with some bravura and noise at an event that saw the first wave Punk bands in the semblance of the Damned, Chelsea and ourselves share a stage with upcoming second wave outfits such as Chron Gen, Anti-Nowhere League, Vice Squad, the Exploited, and, direct from the city of fallen angels, Black Flag. This was the Christmas on Earth one dayer held on December 20th at Leeds’ Queen’s Hall, an auditorium of generous proportions which, despite the snow that had badly inflicted all northern parts of England that day, still managed to attract a full house on the basis of this divergent bill of old and new.
We performed at about 8:00pm in the evening and tore it up with a mix of fresh and familiar material. Nicky Garratt lost a tooth during our sonic offensive when having launched his guitar some eight feet into the air he misjudged the trajectory of its re-entry. Upon glancing up he took the full force of the instrument in the mouth and spent the rest of the show spitting out blood. This only added more visual spice to our assault. We went down exceptionally well.
The latter part of 1981 had certainly generated some tribulations apropos the professional and private spheres of my life. Steve Roberts was still a worry; the relationship Karen and I had once enjoyed had become a funeral pyre; we’d been compelled to change record labels and deal with the unknown quantity that was NEMs; and our management people had begun acting like they were the talent rather than focussing on the people that actually paid their wages.
On the plus side though, the Subs had recorded a superior follow up album to ‘Diminished Responsibility’; I was now living in one of the most vibrant and stylish areas of London, and, as a corollary, had somehow manage to acquire myself a very attractive and intelligent new lover.
As one consumed year transitioned to a fresh one, the great continent of North America was about to summon the U.K. Subs to its shores - a most unexpected and judicious invitation that would in time transform all our lives entirely.
Above: Some photographs of the 1981 Christmas on Earth Leeds show
from Youtube with a demo version of Tomorrows Girls
First published 22 July 2015
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